*** DEBUG END ***

Being With Course Participants’ Companion by Samuel Wells and Sally Hitchiner

20 January 2023

A fresh approach to the enquirers’ course sets Philip Welsh pondering

BEING WITH is an ambitious ten-week course from St Martin-in-the-Fields for people on the edges of the Church.

Its themes run from Meaning to Resurrection, taking in, on the way, Essence (God, that is), Jesus, Church, Bible, Mission, Cross (a session that is sensitive to former Evangelicals), Prayer, and Suffering.

The course’s title is the clue to its theology, which Samuel Wells has been developing for some time: “that being with, displayed in the incarnation, is the reason for creation, the form of salvation and the nature of eternal life”. Its bold aim is not to teach participants about the Christian faith, but to involve them in the experience of being with one another and with God, in the conviction that they already have a wealth of understanding to help them to find God in their normal life.

Two leaders are required: the host, who manages the process, and the storyteller, who gives the short talk each week. Sessions begin by asking each participant: “What has been at the heart of your week?” There follows a time of “Wonderings”: “invitations to remember, imagine and discover” in anticipation of the week’s theme. The storyteller then delivers the short talk as provided, weaving into it some reference to members’ contributions, followed by discussion.

The talks are adapted from previous publications of Wells. There are memorable insights — “discipleship means . . . spending time with those with whom Jesus spent time.” Occasionally, Wells is a bit gnomic — “God is the perfect equilibrium of three persons so with that they are in, but in in such a way that they are still with.” Sometimes, we can hear a mantra in the making, reminiscent of his mentor Stanley Hauerwas — “how the Spirit works to transform church through kingdom and thus give us glimpses of forever now”.

The storyteller is clearly expected to give the talks verbatim, apart from making a few links with participants’ prior comments. This feels a rather uneasy method of delivering someone else’s script, the more so as members already have copies to read in advance. The storyteller risks being the ventriloquist.

One surprise, in a course aimed at enquirers, is its blunt assertion of “everlasting life” as the ground of all Christian hope, and of “the day that Christ comes back” as the day that sets everything right, without acknowledgement that the sense of such claims might be far from clear to participants.

Being With originated as an in-person course, but under lockdown swiftly mutated online. The present version is offered as suitable both for on-site and online use, though its devisers clearly see advantages in operating online, something that Hitchiner has written about at greater length in Finding Abundance in Scarcity, edited by Wells (Canterbury Press, 2021; Books, 6 August 2021).

The course’s insistence that all contributions are of value and that there are no right or wrong answers finds itself in interesting tension with its prescriptiveness: everyone must speak at the opening of each session, and “No one gets to comment on what another participant has said.”

Being With deserves serious consideration as it tries to break new ground with a genuinely theological pedagogy, offered by a church whose projects are always carefully thought through. It has been extensively road-tested, but churches thinking of using it will need to consider carefully how well it will travel from Trafalgar Square, and how manageable prospective leaders will find it.

The Revd Philip Welsh is a retired priest in the diocese of London.


Being With: A course exploring Christian faith and life: Leaders’ guide
Samuel Wells and Sally Hitchiner
Canterbury Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.69


Being With: A course exploring Christian faith and life: Course participants’ companion
Samuel Wells and Sally Hitchiner
Canterbury Press £6.99
Church Times Bookshop £6.29

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Awards Ceremony: 6 September 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)